Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The 1868 McCreery & Co Dry Goods Store - 801 Broadway

The McCreery & Co. Dry Goods store a year after opening, 1869 -- from The Manual of the Corporation of the City of New York -- NYPL Collection
In 1868, three years after the end of the Civil War, the new James McCreery & Co. Dry Goods opened its magnificent emporium on Broadway at 11th Street. Designed by John Kellum, the five-story French Second Empire building was the latest in architectural fashion, the style originating in Paris only about a decade earlier. Kellum used the relatively new technology of a pre-fabricated cast iron fa├žade which, while being fire-proof, allowed for the ample use of large windows. Vast glass show windows lined the street level while a striking mansard roof with lacy cresting and French dormers capped the building.

Constructed by builders J. B. and W. W. Cornell, the lavish store cost a staggering $300,000.

McCreery had chosen a highly-fashionable area for his new building. Across Broadway was the Episcopal Grace Church where, for twenty years, New York’s wealthy had worshipped and were married. Across 11th Street to the south was the first-class St. Denis Hotel, opened in 1853, and the side streets were lined with grand brownstone residences.

Focusing on the female shopper, the store catered to the monied carriage trade. Before long The New York Times would deem it "one of the most highly esteemed dry goods establishments in America."  In 1872 the newspaper commented on the store's goods.  “Shawls, silks and furs, of good quality, and specially suited to the season, may be obtained at McCreery & Co.’s establishment, Broadway and Eleventh-street. They have recently added largely to their stocks, and now offer a fine selection of goods intended for ladies’ use.”

The expensive nature of the store’s stock was evident when, on the night of September 7, 1880, three well-known burglars, Thomas Fay, Frederick Walling (alias “Little Fred”), and John Brown (alias “Turk”) were apprehended. In their possession were seal-skin sacks stolen from the store valued at $10,000.

The store in 1895 from "King's Photographic Views of New York" (author's collection)
Five years later the firm was advertising “Materials for street and opera wraps include tiger or leopard skin plushes and silks for streetwear, and magnificent stuffs in absinthe green and blue, and blue and green for the opera.”

As the turn of the century approached, feminine shopping was moving to the stretch of 6th Avenue between 14th Street and 23rd Street referred to as "The Ladies' Mile."  Not to be left behind, McCreery opened its second store in 1894 on 6th Avenue at 23rd Street and, around the same time, sold the Broadway building to the Methodist Publishing Company.  McCreery & Co. continued leasing the lower floors for its retail business until 1902 when the area no longer supported high-end dry goods stores. By 1940 the lower floors, where fashionable women shopped for silks and furs, housed an antique statuary store. The upper floors were used as a shoe and leather handbag factory.

On October 3, 1971 a fire started somewhere in the factory and, before it was extinguished, the structure was heavily damaged. However, true to its 1860s reputation, the cast iron facades withstood the blaze.

The Elghanayan brothers, Tom, Fred and Henery, bought the old dry goods building through their Rockrose Associated real estate firm. When their intentions to demolish the remaining shell and erect a high-rise apartment building in its place were announced, the community protested.  Residents rallied along with the Friends of Cast Iron and community groups, appearing before the Board of Appeals. The Board granted variances that made renovating the existing structure to residential use economically feasible.

Stephens B. Jacobs Group, PC, architects, were commissioned to transform the burned shell into 144 apartments – no two of which are identical. The large, arched windows, the interior Corinthian cast iron columns, and the original high ceiling dimensions were retained; resulting in dramatic spaces. Completed in 1974, it was the first renovation of a cast iron building into conventionally-financed housing and a fine example of re-purposing vintage structures.
The McCreery Building today with its magnificent mansard replaced by two rather plain stories -- photo restaurantwarecollectors.com
Although it has lost its wonderful mansard roof, the McCreery & Co. Dry Goods store (often misspelled "McCreary"), now called simply “The Cast Iron Building,” survives.


  1. I will never understand the mentality that took such a beautiful mansard roof and replaced it with a prison...

  2. I was just reminiscing to a friend about the "Carousel" restaurant in McCreery's. It was definitely child oriented. I recall that the chairs were set into curved tracks at the tables, under the carousel. (Or maybe it was a circus big top.)

    I don't remember anything about what food was served.

    Don Cuevas

  3. The mansard roof was almost certainly destroyed in the "million dollar fire" of July 1909. Photos after that show a simple flat-roofed addition instead of the mansard roof, though not the same one that is there now.

  4. The "carousel" restaurant was in the 34th Street McCreery's, the final location of the store (opposite the Empire State Building).